South Korea's conservative party candidate Lee Myung-bak remains well ahead of his rivals, one day before campaigning starts for the Dec. 19 presidential election, opinion polls showed yesterday.
Three newspaper surveys gave Lee about 37 percent to 39 percent backing compared with 18 percent to 19 percent for his rightwing independent challenger Lee Hoi-chang.
In third place was Chung Dong-young of the pro-government United New Democratic Party with 11 percent to 14 percent.
But two of the three polls also show more than 20 percent of electors remain undecided just 23 days before voting day.
A record nine hopefuls signed up on Sunday on the first day of candidate registration and eight more are expected to follow suit on the second and final day yesterday, election commission officials said.
Campaigning officially begins today.
Lee Myung-bak, a former construction executive standing for the opposition Grand National Party (GNP), is capitalizing on a public swing to the right after a decade of liberal rule.
But Lee, also a former Seoul mayor, faces claims he was involved in a stock manipulation and embezzlement scam allegedly engineered by a former business partner. He denies any involvement.
His former partner Kim Gyeong-jun is being detained and questioned by prosecutors, who will report their findings by Dec. 5.
"I hope prosecutors will find the truth through fair investigations as quickly as possible. Let me make it clear ... that I was not involved in any illegality and wrongdoing," Lee said on Sunday.
Some analysts doubt there will be any dramatic announcement.
"The prosecution may come up with some results of its investigation, but I don't think the prosecution will be bold enough to shatter the current race," Lee Young-Myoung, a political scientist at Hallym University, told Yonhap news agency.
Lee Hoi-chang, a former prime minister strongly critical of North Korea, is making his third presidential bid after bolting from the GNP. Hoi-chang criticizes Myung-bak's relatively softer stance on the North and his business ethics.
Chung, a former TV anchorman and unification minister, vows to support peaceful engagement with North Korea and focus on public welfare. But Chung's past association with the current unpopular government, and his failure to unite liberal forces behind him, are eroding his support.